Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: the writing life

Week 23: Practicing Generosity

candle_light_quote

Last week, I wrote about practicing gratitude.

And if you’re truly practicing gratitude, generosity is sure to follow.

In the whole first year of my book’s publication, I sold about 150 copies.

Last week, I gave away 309 copies.

***

Let me explain.

Last year, I learned the Number # 1 Lesson of baby fairs and expos.

Everyone is coming for FREE stuff.

To try to convince someone to buy something at these events is almost impossible.

People were so confused when they would walk up to my table, their eyes searching for what they were going to walk away with. Hmmm… papers with words on them… Some books on book stands… Their fingers would slowly trace the tablecloth, their brains registering the fact that…

I really had nothing.

What I had were fliers, cards, and pamphlets with information on something that I wanted them to buy.

Ha.

All the other vendors had enormous bowls of candy (regardless of the season) or little goodie bags filled with free magnets, pens, and pamphlets. The smart ones also had a clipboard to collect email addresses for “a chance to win this diaper bag” or basket of baby books, or whatever.

Smart.

So this year, my approach at this past weekend’s baby fair was quite different.

I gave away my book. For free.

Kindle Direct Publishing allows me to run a free book promotion every three months. The dates of the most recent period coincided perfectly with a local hospital’s community baby fair. So I scheduled my promotion to run for three days, from Saturday, September 24th to Monday, September 26th.

I decided that I would give out half-sheets of paper with directions about how to get their free Kindle copy of my book. At the bottom of that half-sheet of paper, I politely asked for their Amazon review if they enjoyed the book. I also invited them to follow my blog by email.

Then, I told them to enjoy the book.

Their eyes lit up, their eyebrows arched.

“Wow. Thanks!”

“Awesome!”

“I’ll get it tonight!”

***

I didn’t advertise the free book promotion at all until Sunday, September 25th. I thought there might be a few people who would come across my book and download it on September 24th, but my main reason for beginning on this day was to have a buffer period for things to go wrong (i.e., Hey, why isn’t my promotion showing up on Amazon???) before the actual date when I need the promotion to be working.

So imagine my surprise when I checked on Sunday morning to see how many free Kindle books had already been downloaded.

97.

97 Kindle books.

I wasn’t sure I was reading the graph right. I read it and reread it. I put my finger on my laptop screen and touched the line.

kdp

Holy shit.

Who were these people? Was there some special link that Kindle readers follow to immediately download new free Kindle books?

Whatever the reason, I felt incredibly grateful.

No, I’m not making any money. In fact, I’m still about $1500 in the hole for my accrued publishing and marketing costs.

But, hey.

By the end of this promotion, I had reached 309 new potential readers. Some of them will actually read the book. Some of them will recommend it to others. And some of them might even buy a copy for a friend.

Generosity makes the world go round.

Maybe giving away all of these books will lead to this book’s next big break.

Maybe it won’t.

But I feel certain that some new mom out there will end up with this book in her hands and feel comforted by its message.

And that makes the whole endeavor worth it.

Self-Publishing Costs and Benefits

scales

I don’t know how many copies of Becoming Mother I truly expected to sell on its release date.

Maybe 20? That could as least cover some of the costs that I’ve shelled out of the last few months. Yeah, 20 seems reasonable. Okay, maybe 15.

When I checked that evening around 10:00 p.m., I braced myself.

One.

One copy.

Really?

***

Success in publishing can be measured in a lot of ways.

Before I published this book, I braced myself for how the whole publication process might affect my own feelings of accomplishment and self-worth. Anyone who knows me knows that it’s easy for me to take criticism too close to heart. I have to mentally prepare myself for any heartless comments that may come my way.

I knew that by taking on the challenge of self-publishing, I was putting the responsibility for book promotion and sales entirely into my own hands.

I’m inviting you behind the curtain today, to show what self-publishing has been like in this first year post-publication. The nuts and bolts. The costs and benefits. The frustrations and joys.

Here we go.

Summary of Expenses

  • Cover design: $200
  • ISBNs: $300
  • NetGalley listing: $400
  • Booth fees for selling events: $400
  • Wholesale copies of book: $516
  • Facebook ads: $130
  • Book award contests: $240
  • IBPY Catalogue listing: $230
  • Misc: $285

Books sold, August 2015-August 2016:

  • Printed (through Amazon): 70
  • Printed (in-person sales): 37
  • Kindle: 39
  • KENFP earnings (by Kindle pages read): 3,107 pages
  • Total copies sold: 146

Earnings: approximately $900

Book reviews published:

  • Burrito Buzz, MothersAlwaysWrite, Project: Women
  • Amazon reviews in August 2016: 15 different buyers

Countries where my book has been sold:

  • United States, Great Britain, Japan, Australia

Blog Stats

  • Blog followers in August 2015: 45 followers
  • Blog followers in August 2016: 421 followers
  • Total blog views: 11,407
  • Total blog visitors: 6,814

Most visited posts/pages:

Other publications that have helped to promote my writing:

  • Kiwi Magazine
  • MotherAlwaysWrite
  • Project: Women
  • Imperfect Life
  • Fearless Formula Feeder

 

A lot of people could scoff at me for choosing the “easy way” to publication. I would scoff right back at them and say, “Easy? Are you kidding me?”

The only “easy” quality about it is that I didn’t have to spend the time flirting around to find an agent who might be interested enough in my work to get it in the hands of an editor at a publishing house, who might actually want to take the risk of publishing my work, who might not completely change my vision. In that sense, I was able to spend more time in honing the quality of my work and deciding exactly how I wanted to market the book.

Self-publishing wasn’t the easiest way to publish. But it did help me accomplish a few goals:

  • I was able to publish this work while I am still a mother of a young child. This helps me identify with my readers.
  • I had total control over my content, organization, and book layout.
  • I had immediate access to my sales records–so I could know when certain promotions were working or not working.
  • I retained my rights over my creative work.
  • Interested readers could easily access and purchase my book through Amazon.
  • I was able to market this book however I saw fit.

Some of the things that I did to market this book flopped. Some things worked well. Here’s what I’ve learned. Take it or leave it.

  • Do not do a Goodreads giveaway with the expectation that the winners will actually review your book. They just don’t. If you want to do a Goodreads giveaway, just do it out of the goodness of your heart and be thankful that someone who is not part of your regular social circles may read your book.
  • Facebook ads didn’t really produce many sales. Maybe they get your book cover in front of eyes and lead to a few clicks, but it never made a huge difference in sales for me. This was mostly wasted money, I thought.
  • Don’t be afraid to charge a fair price for your book.
  • Sometimes your buyer isn’t your reader…
  • Selling events are great… for figuring out how to market your book. They might not be great for actually selling that many books.

 

Instead, do these things:

1.) Above all: KEEP WRITING.

If you’re really a writer, this will not be hard at all. You love to do it anyway. You love it even though it doesn’t pay the bills. You love it even though you are rejected over and over and over again. You. Just. Love it.

2. ) Promote your most trafficked blog posts through Facebook promotions. (Hint: Being vulnerable often leads to highly trafficked blog posts. This means that you write about the tough stuff.)

3.) Blog. Regularly. But…

… save some stellar work to submit to other literary magazines or websites who are looking for original, unpublished work.

Find other places to submit your writing and submit often. Take the rejection. Take all of it because there will be a lot. Swallow your pride and keep going. You’re in this for the long haul.

  • Follow other people’s blogs.
  • Identify tags for posts that appeal to your target audience.

(For me, this meant following tags like pregnancy, motherhood, writing, baby, and parenting.)

  • Like and comment on other people’s posts.
  • Respond to every comment on your blog.

4.) Embrace the Power of Social Media

Disclaimer**: I was born in 1981, the very beginning of the Millenial Generation, and God, it shows. I graduated college before the advent of Facebook and smartphones, so I have a weird mix of social media literacy and social media repulsion. And yet… I cannot deny that it has helped me reach readers that I otherwise would never have reached.

Blogging has helped me connect with readers in Australia. Facebook has helped me promote my book to Facebook friends and friends of those friends.

I have not walked through the dark, dark threshold of Twitter yet. I fear I might never return. I have too doggone much to keep track of, so I limit myself to Facebook and blogging.

  • Establish an on-line presence through social media.
  • Create a Facebook page for your book and regularly update it with new blog posts, book reviews, book progress, and other related readings that you find noteworthy.
  • Like other Facebook pages for websites and books that are related to your topic.
  • Start interacting with other bloggers whose work you admire. Comment on their posts. Follow their blogs. Like their Facebook page. Then, see if they are open to receiving a free copy of your book and reviewing it. Graciously accept whatever review they create, be it positive or negative.
  • Attend writer’s conferences and workshops. Network. Learn about their writing, their blogs, and their books. Help them out and they’ll help you out. Oh, and while you’re there, learn about writing.

Be honest. Be authentic. Be you. No one wants a martyr. No one wants a superhero. People want authenticity. They want to see you down in the mud where they are–but they also want to see you climb out of it and shine.

Shine on, fellow writers.

Shine on.

The Next Book

About a year ago, in the middle of January, I was trying to fall asleep and out of nowhere, a sentence came to me.

Just one line. A line of dialogue.

It tugged at me. It kept me up.

Who said this line? Why did they say it? Where were they? What were the stakes?

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King compares the process of writing a good story to the process of unearthing a fossil. You see part of the story peeking out of the ground–then you unearth the story by asking the right questions. You don’t imagine a bunch of independent, isolated pieces lying on top of the earth and then try to fit them all together.

You start with one piece–then you see what’s already attached to it.

So that’s what I did. I got out a notebook and I started answering those questions.

And a story emerged.

long story.

Long enough for three books.

I stared down at my notes and thought, I don’t have time for this. I’ve got to finish this book I’m working on right now. When am I going to find time to write another book, let alone three? I’ve got a job. And a toddler.

writing

Still, the story wouldn’t go away. As I drove to work, the plot, the characters, and their motivations took shape. As I listened to music in my car, and I could see critical scenes playing out before me as I drove, much like a movie trailer. One morning while on a short vacation with friends, I got up at 5:30 and spent two hours writing out the first five major scenes.

But then I got stuck. I couldn’t see past a major conflict. I couldn’t figure out how to resolve the conflict in a way that fit with the characters.

So I put it away. I finished the book I was working on. I learned how to publish, how to market, and how reach new readers. I spent time blogging and writing essays to submit for publication elsewhere.

But the story wouldn’t go away.

***

My husband put several books in my stocking for Christmas this year. One of them was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.

big magic

I wasn’t ready to read it at first. I was still working through the grief of miscarriage. But within a week, I decided it was time to allow myself to cultivate my creativity again. It was my creativity, after all, that had saved me, time and time again.

In Gilbert’s book, she articulates a belief that ideas come to people, almost like a kind of spiritual possession. And if the person doesn’t try to bring forth the idea to the world, it will move on, seeking someone else to bring it to light.

What a bunch of mystical bullshit, I thought.

But I kept thinking about the story that I had told to wait. I couldn’t deny that it was still lingering there in the deep recesses of my brain. It was like a puzzle that I couldn’t figure out.

So I dug out my notes about the story and the twelve pages that I wrote a year earlier and I read them.

As I moved through the pages I was swept up in the story that my previous self had written. Whose voice was this in these pages? Who wrote this? I know I did, but this doesn’t sound like me at all. It truly felt like I was reading someone else’s great idea.

But I still couldn’t figure out how to resolve the major conflict.

***

This last week, I had coffee with a good friend, Cate. She asked me if I had any desire to write fiction again. I rolled my eyes and shrugged, “You mean besides that one book that I can’t figure out?”

“What book?” she asked.

It occurred to me that Cate was a fresh audience with whom I’d never shared the concept of this book.

I told her everything that I knew. She listened, her eyebrows lifting in interest in all the right places. I had to backtrack a few times to clarify plot lines and motivations, but she stuck with me the whole time. As she asked me questions, I could feel the gears clicking into place again, the story starting to open up and move.

As I drove home, I started to re-imagine the story. What if this… What if that… 

I jotted some more notes down in a new notebook. I scribbled out the plot arcs for all three books. Oddly enough, the most logical and motivating place for me to begin was with the second book.

And so that’s where I’ll begin.

***

After this experience, I can’t totally write off Elizabeth Gilbert’s premise, that ideas knock on our doors, asking for us to bring them to light.

Because where did this first line of dialogue come from?

I have no idea.

While I can rationalize the experience of unearthing the fossil of this story question by question, I cannot rationalize where that first spark of curiosity came from. I can attribute my own imagination as the source that fleshed out the answers to all the questions that surrounded this line of dialogue.

But where did that first line of dialogue come from?

I know it didn’t come from me.

Damn you, Elizabeth Gilbert.

But also bless you, for convincing me to not give up on the idea that wouldn’t go away.

Now the hard work begins.

Milestone # 1: 100 books sold!

While writing a book is hard, publishing and marketing a book–at least for me–is harder. Writing put me in the driver’s seat. I was calling the shots. I could craft and mold the future success of my book by the decisions that I was making.

But once my book became consumable, something for people to hesitantly pick up and flip through, something for people to silently judge and turn down, all my control was gone. The success of my book is now (mostly) out of my control. While I can present it in the best light possible, it’s ultimately the buyer’s decision.

IMG_20150830_132029

I wasn’t expecting to sell 500 books in the first few months of publication. I made my goal more attainable.

100 books.

That was how many I wanted to sell by the end of the year.

In October, I wasn’t so sure it was going to happen. Around mid-September, after the dust had settled from the initial rush of its release, I had sold about 55 books. October was a slow month. I didn’t have any sales events scheduled until the end of November, and I began to wonder how I was going to keep my sales going when I wasn’t pitching the book in person.

So I turned my attention to this blog. I started reading and commenting on other pregnancy and motherhood blogs. I started following other bloggers and liking their posts.

And you know what? My sales started climbing again.

I couldn’t believe it.

It wasn’t costing me anything (besides my time) to engage with other bloggers on-line, and blogging was paying off just about as much as it was for me to pay booth fees, sell in person, and pitch over and over again to complete strangers. So I kept at it. I kept writing throughout November. Good, solid content like “To the Syrian mother of triplets, fleeing from ISIS” and “The things you can’t leave behind.”

Throughout October and November, I noticed that I started reaching readers in other countries: Canada, Australia, and Great Britain. Although I can’t be sure that these sales came from blogging, I’m fairly certain they did.

So while I thought that direct in-person sales would lead to the most sales, I have been happily disappointed.

But in-person selling hasn’t been a waste of time. And I definitely recommend it for other writers. In-person selling has helped me to make contacts, network with others, increase my book’s visibility, and develop my own confidence and pitching skills. I know how to talk about my book to different audiences in under a minute. I know that many of my buyers are not new mothers. They are the family and friends of the new mother who are looking for a unique gift for the new mother. I have learned that some of my biggest buyers are women in their 50s and 60s whose daughters are expecting their first babies.

I have also been happily surprised in this journey of publishing.

In mid-November, I checked my sales and I did a double-take at the number of total sales. Usually, I sell about one or maybe two copies per week. When I looked over the details, I saw that I had sold six copies in one day. To whom? I have no idea. Since I didn’t sell as many copies in the days before or after that day, I thought it must have been a single buyer. Was it a book club purchase? That would be nice.

But it was someone who was willing to plop down $78 for six printed copies.

I can’t think of a greater compliment.

***

Interested in getting your own copy of Becoming Mother

 

Christmas Promotion: “Becoming Mother” $0.99 Kindle Book, 11/30 only!

If you’re a first-time mother (or father!), I wrote this book for you.

becoming mother cover

This book isn’t about the baby.

It’s about the mother.

It’s about the huge physical, emotional, and psychological challenges that she faces every day as she struggles to be a mother. Not only is it great for first-time mothers, it’s awesome for new fathers and for friends who don’t have kids, but want to have an idea of what new mothers experience.

But I’d prefer to let you read what others are saying about this book. Check out these reviews below:

Dana Schwartz, Writing at the Table

http://danaschwartzwrites.com/2015/11/02/becoming-mother/

Tara Tona, Project: Women

http://thisisprojectwomen.com/2015/11/20/book-review-becoming-mother-by-sharon-tjaden-glass/

You can download the Kindle version of Becoming Mother: A Journey of Identity for only $0.99, (normally $6.99) on Monday, 11/30/2015 only! 

On Tuesday, 12/1, you can purchase it for $2.99.

On Wednesday, 12/2, you can purchase it for $4.99.

Spread the word!

 

 

 

Hara Arena: Dayton Time Machine

When I walked into Hara Arena to set up my booth for the National Holiday Gift Show, I wondered how it was possible that a place like this still exists.

You don’t have to look far to find glaring examples of how badly this place needs to be renovated.

From the graffiti-ed ceiling…

Hara Arena pics 2015 001

To the flat-out gaping holes over the bathroom stall…

IMG_20151128_131208376_HDR

To the electric (occasionally cobwebbed) 1970s chandeliers…

Hara Arena pics 2015 002

To the concessions stand that makes me want to roller-skate up to the window and ask for some nachos…

Hara Arena pics 2015 003

To the decorations that look like that scene in The Wedding Singer (the one where Adam Sandler totally loses it)…

Hara Arena pics 2015 004

This place just flat-out makes me sad. Has it ever been renovated since it opened in 1964? Highly doubtful.

You don’t need a time machine to go back to the 60s. You just need to come to Hara. I dare say that many of the shoppers have aged along with the building.

Hara_Arena

At first, you kind of wonder if everyone is blind to how decrepit this place is. But it’s amazing how much a well-designed booth can distract customers from the reality of being surrounded by a crumbling ceiling and dirty, water-stained walls (or are they stained with nicotine? I guess that’s possible too, considering how old this place is).

I don’t have much of a personal history with Hara Arena. My parents didn’t really take us to any public events when I was growing up in the 1980s in Dayton. (It could be been a financial issue, but I think it’s more likely that they just didn’t want to spend their energy corralling five kids in public. Grocery shopping with us was bad enough.)

Because I’ve never seen how awesome this place once was, I’m more likely to see how awful this place is today.

Hara was once a hot spot, the place where people came to watch a number of sports team (Dayton Jets, Dayton Gems, Dayton Bombers, etc) until they all left for different, hotter venues. In some respects, Hara seems to be a tale of a tragic love story. Once the hottest, coolest little number in town, perhaps Hara developed an undeserved sense of importance, born mostly out of the lack of competition of any other venues in town. Like a vain lover, perhaps Hara thought it didn’t need to change. If people thought that other places were cooler or more attractive, well then, fine. Go there.

I know how awesome I am… Hara may have thought.

But it’s not a secret that this place is struggling. Recent financial cutbacks have decreased their full-time staff to just 12 people.

Perhaps that’s why it took so long for the staff to turn off the blaring, crackling white noise over the loudspeaker (I think it was supposed to be Joy to the World? But who could tell?). Perhaps they had laid off the person who knew how to work the sound system.

So I guess renovations are out of the question.

But it makes you wonder how long this place will remain open.

In the meantime, I just feel sorry for this place.

 

Live from Black Friday Book Selling

So I’m selling my newly published book at Hara Arena in Dayton, Ohio for the next three days.

A disclaimer: Selling like this makes me feel uncomfortable. As I’ve said before, selling like this makes me feel like *I* am on sale. This is a memoir, a book about my life.

So I tried to take the first comment of the day in stride.

An older man, a fellow exhibitor, walked by my booth as the doors were just about to open. He sized up my book and said, “Is this a book about being a mom?”

I said, “Well, it’s a book about becoming a mom.”

“Okay…”

He looked around my table.

“Is that all you have? Just the book?”

“Yep.”

“Hmm…”

Long silence.

I know that this booth is a bit out of place. There are hardly any items on the table.

National Holiday Gift Show 001

Just a small stack of books and a display of items for the gift set.

“Interesting…”

“Thank you,” I said.

“This isn’t really a reading crowd, but… good luck to you.”

Geez, Dude. Thanks for the pick-me-up.

Okay, so I’m more than a bit out of place.

I’m surrounded by far more exciting booths: a posh clothing boutique decorated with all things Parisian, a booth dripping with jewelry, and I swear to God, an Ohio State Football booth, manned by an actual Ohio State Football player (his jersey says “Cotton?”).

The doors opened at 9:00 and I debated in my head about whether or not it would be better to sit or stand.

I tried standing, looking out at the people passing by and saying hello.

Most of them didn’t want to make eye contact. Or they missed me completely as they darted to the Ohio State booth. I smiled. I said hello. I smiled. I said hello. Hello. Good morning.

Oh! Someone with a baby! Get her! Oh… she’s gone. 

Look at all of them around the Ohio State booth. God, they can’t get enough of it. 

No one here is going to buy this book. Look at all of them. He’s right. No one here reads…

Okay, maybe standing isn’t working. Maybe I should try the disinterested approach.

I sit down and start typing away on my computer.

At least I don’t have to be bored while I tailspin into low self-esteem.

***

At least there are a lot of people here. There is a steady stream of people passing by my booth.

While I’ve been writing this, a woman stopped by my table and said that she wished she would have known about this book a little sooner. Her niece just had a baby on Monday.

“Oh, really? This is actually even better for her now that she’s had the baby. This book goes all the way to the end of the first year postpartum.”

Her eyebrows lifted. She thumbed through the book as we chatted.

She eyed the price, the purchasing options. I told her that I was selling the gift set today and that if she wanted just the book she could get it on Amazon for a bit cheaper.

“I’ll think on it.”

I offered her my card and she smiled as she took it.

We said good-bye.

Oh well…  I thought.

I resumed typing away on this blog post and noticed someone staring at my table.

We struck up a conversation. Her daughter is expecting a baby next April. I pitched her the book.

She bought a copy.

More to come…

 

Sisterhood of World Bloggers Award

sisterhood-700x700

I’ve reached a milestone–my first nomination for a blogging award.

Yes, I know this is a polite nod in my direction and won’t truly bring me fame or fortune (have I ever really wanted that anyway?). But I’ll happily oblige and pass the baton along.

My nominator is Rasha from The Tuna Chronicles. She recently had a post published (“Confessions of a Reformed Helicopter Parent“) on Scary Mommy–quite an accomplishment!

Here are Rasha’s questions to me and my responses:

  • What is the last song you played on your iPod, iPad, iPhone, [insert name of music playing device here]? Be honest now…

I’m probably one of the few people left in the world who doesn’t have an iAnything. I still make mix CDs to play in my 2003 Civic. I have a whole routine here: I listen to Pandora for 4 months and “like” the songs that strike me. Then, when the season starts to change, I go back to my like list and generate a new CD to match the next season. And you know what? When I hear one of these songs, I know exactly the season in which I listened to it in my car.

I just started my Fall 2015 CD. And the last song that I listened to this morning before I parked my car was “Death is the Road to Awe” by Clint Mansell. It’s an instrumental piece from Darren Aronofsky’s 2006 film, “The Fountain.” Here’s a nice rendition of the song, set to clips from the movie.

Hey, you asked.

  • Why did you start blogging?

I wrote a book

Book-Cover-Becoming-Mother-Kindle

and I needed a way to connect with my readers.

I also had a lot of ideas that didn’t really belong in the book, and this blog gives me space to develop and share those ideas.

My writing typically lifts up a concept to see what’s hiding underneath. Sometimes, I turn things inside out. Sometimes, I take the opposing position. I want to take my readers on a journey. I want to re-examine what we dismiss as simple–or simplify what we think is too complicated.

I don’t want readers to be able to click on my posts and immediately know where I will take them. Not every post has a happy ending–because life often doesn’t have happy endings. And despite what media teaches us, that’s okay. That’s normal. When our stories don’t have happy endings, we shouldn’t let it diminish our ability to see beauty in life. Finding beauty in unhappy moments is a skill that we develop over time. It makes us resilient. It makes us wiser.

  • Are you a “same-breakfast-every-day” kinda gal, or the type that mixes it up? If the former, what is your go-to breakfast?

Same breakfast everyday. This is it.

Steel_cut_oats

My husband makes 12 cups of this at a time, divides it among Rubbermaid containers, and then we each pull one out to eat in the morning. We add berries. I go nuts and add cashews (pun intended). Our daughter also loves this stuff. I don’t have a problem with gluten, but my husband does (along with a whole list of other things). But he cooks for me, so I inadvertently end up eating very healthy because of his allergies (no cheese, no milk, no butter, no chocolate, no shrimp, and on and on).

  • What (or who) will always make you smile, no matter what?

This. Particularly minute 3:00-4:00.

  • Who is someone that inspires you?

Ashlee Gadd, founder of Coffee + Crumbs.

Ashlee_Gadd

She writes for and coordinates an amazing collaborative blog on motherhood that continually puts out post after post that strikes the right emotional chords. And she does so as a mother of two young children.

  • What do you never leave the house without?

My shoes? My keys?

  • Your magic genie is going to grant you any superpower you like – what’s it gonna be?

Healing.

  • If you had 48 hours to yourself, what would you do?

Write. Read. Take naps.

  • What picture do you have on your phone wallpaper?

This.

Felicity_20130816_009

  • What is your favorite thing about blogging?

Reading comments from readers, especially on the powerful posts in which I’ve invested a lot of time and energy, but which don’t attract the most clicks. Here are two examples: Giving Grief a Voice and The Hunger for September 11th.

My most visited posts have attracted a lot of gawkers (like On Natural Childbirth), but not necessarily much engagement. The funny thing about “On Natural Childbirth” was that it attracted over 300 visitors in 2 days, mostly from Facebook… but only 6 people “liked” the post on Facebook. It seemed like people were eager to read what I had to say, but not eager to admit that they had read it. That’s why I use the word “gawker.”

And now I pass the nominations for some blogs that I truly enjoy:

Nominees, if you’d like to participate, here are the rules:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you, linking back to their site
  2. Put the award logo on your blog
  3. Answer the ten questions sent to you
  4. Make up ten new questions for your nominees to answer
  5. Nominate seven other blogs (let them know!)

And here are my questions for you:

  1. What has been your most visited post on your blog and why do you think people flocked to it?
  2. What is the best way to spend $50 (and yes, you have to spend it!)?
  3. Where do you usually write? What does your space look like?
  4. What is the funniest thing your child/children have done recently?
  5. What kind words would you share with a first-time expecting mother?
  6. Why did you start blogging?
  7. What types of blogs catch your attention?
  8. Someone brought you your favorite snack and it is…
  9. Coffee, tea, or something else?
  10. You can solve one global problem. What is it?

Why aren’t people buying this book?: Three lessons learned about book promotion

12074536_1659032551033848_537727932326925196_n

So I’ve written a great book.

I’m selling at events where I can easily reach my primary audience–mothers.

So why are only 2% of people who attend these events actually buying this book?

It’s not because the book sucks. I’m getting glowing reviews from strangers on NetGalley–people who have no vested interest in giving me good reviews.

It’s not because I haven’t defined my audience.

Is it because I’m still an unknown writer?

What’s the deal?

I’ve thought about this a lot–especially since my last event totally bombed, at least compared to my expectations of what would actually happen. I hesitated to plop down the pricey booth fee for this past week’s baby and kid expo. Their listed booth price was $495.

Say what?!?

On the other hand, I thought, maybe that meant there would be a lot of people there. In fact, in my communication with the organizers, I learned that about 400-500 people attended this event last time.

Hm, I thought. Nice, but I can’t afford that.

I told them that I might be interested after I’m better established.

Okay, $250 then!, the lead organizer replied.

Hold on, I thought. They think I’m trying to negotiate the price. I wasn’t trying to negotiate at all, so I wrote back to them, in no uncertain terms, that I couldn’t afford this price, but maybe next year.

Okay, $150! But I can’t go lower than that!, the lead organizer wrote.

Holy cow, I mused. I bargained her down to $150 without even intending to negotiate. (I’m sure there are all kinds of implications here for other women who are seeking out ways to negotiate more effectively.)

So I thought that this was a good deal. I would be selling at an event where a lot of mothers would be present, and because it was called an “expo,” people would be coming in with the intention of finding (and buying!) new products. And, hey, maybe the booth prices was so high because I could expect to make some money back to help offset the cost of the booth.

Right?

Bah-ha-ha.

***

I noticed something was wrong by around 3:45. I hadn’t sold one book. First, there weren’t a lot of people there. From 3:00 to 4:00, there was a slow trickle of people. Perhaps 50 people in a room with about 20 or 25 tables. Traffic peaked around 4:00 with about 70 people in the room.

I looked around the room to see what other people were selling. In fact, people didn’t really seem to be selling much at all.

There was another local photographer who was displaying her work and talking about her services. One woman was promoting her swimming classes. An insurance agent was giving out quotes and talking about different policies. Across from me was a chiropractor (who maybe was looking for new clients?). Next to me were three representatives for It Works!, a wellness company that offers vitamins, “superfoods” in the form of powdered drinks, and wraps that shrink and tighten fat cells. There was also an Usborne Books representative and someone selling a product that promised to be a “metabolic booster.” The only other person selling something they had created was a woman selling die-cut quilts and crocheted items.

As I looked around the room, I kept thinking about that listed booth price: $495. Really? No one was turning that much of a profit here. Had everyone bargained for a lower booth price? Most of the tables looked like informational booths, not vendor booths.

And you know what?

The attendees treated them as such.

I started realizing that everyone was queuing up in three places–at the photo-taking station (free pictures, courtesy of a local professional photographer) or at either of the two baby formula company tables (free formula). After getting their free picture, women would load up their strollers with freebies and high-tail it out of there. Several mothers glanced at my table for about half a second–just long enough to see my huge poster–before they barreled out of the conference center.

I can’t be angry at the attendees. They came to this event with the expectation that they would get free stuff. I came with the expectation that–I don’t know–people would be in the mood to buy. But hey, the free formula and baby pictures set the tone. And as one of the few vendors that was actually selling products, I was outnumbered.

So maybe that’s one reason that so many people lingered inquisitively at my stack of books. Maybe they were wondering if I was just going to hand them over for free.

Lesson # 1: Don’t sell at events where people are attending just to get free stuff. I’m not slick enough at sales to convert the “I’m here for the freebies” mentality to the “I’m here to buy” mentality.

***

But I realized something else at this expo.

My pitches were not working.

Was it the content of my pitches?

  • For pregnant women: “This is a better What to Expect because it talks about more than the physical changes. It talks about the emotional stuff that no one likes to talk about.”
  • For women with children in tow: “This is a new pregnancy memoir that explores the transformation that women make when they become mothers.”
  • Everyone else: “This is a new book that I wrote that takes the reader from pregnancy to the end of the first year postpartum.”

So, so many times, these women would smile meekly and nod and say:

  • “Oh, that sounds nice.”
  • “Hm, okay.”

Or they would explain why they didn’t need it:

  • “Oh, I already had my baby.”
  • “This is my second, so…”
  • “I’m done having children.”
  • “Would have been nice a few years ago!”

And then they would quickly move on.

***

There is the thin line between advocating for my book and being an annoying salesperson (which I am sooo not.) If someone doesn’t look interested in starting a conversation, I am not inclined to chase them down. And yet, I find myself caught in this constant mental battle about whether or not I should engage with someone who is walking by my table.

Voice # 1: Be confident! Fight your introverted nature! Beat it with a stick! Take a risk! Engage!

Voice # 2: She just wants to be left alone. That couple doesn’t look interested in buying anything. She’s just being polite. Give her an out so she can save face. 

(Not to mention Voice # 3: No one cares about your book. No one reads anymore. What a waste of money this was. You should really stop doing these events. They’re just driving you further into the red.) 

But then I also wonder if some of the people that I pitched to were even listening. First, they looked at my table. Then, my poster. Then, they would look back at the stack of books, as if trying to figure out what I was all about. I don’t think they could fully process what I was saying to them while they using visuals to make sense of the scene.

So as more and more people walked away, I decided to try something new–I would pitch my book as a gift.

“This is a great baby shower gift for first-time moms.”

“Oh?” an older woman said. Her eyebrows arched. She picked a copy up and started to flip through it. “What a neat idea… Wait, did you write this?”

“Yes.”

Eyebrows arched higher.

“Very neat.”

“Do you know anyone who’s a first-time mom?”

“Yeah, I do… This would be great for her.”

“I’ll even sign it for you for free.”

I closed that sale.

I tried this same gift pitch on others and I started to notice that more people were responding to it. Oh, a gift? What a great idea! 

And then it struck me: I hadn’t clearly defined my primary buyers.

For a number of reasons, mothers were not seeing this book as something they wanted to spend money on. Maybe it’s because mothers are more likely to buy for others and less likely to buy for themselves. It’s the I’ll-use-my-money-on-something-else syndrome.

Or maybe new mothers look at my book and think, “There’s nothing in that book that I don’t already know.”

Or maybe pregnant mothers are thinking, “Oh great. Someone else giving me advice.”

But perhaps the inner dialogue is different for someone who is buying the book for someone else.

Maybe they think, “I don’t want to be the one to tell her how hard it’s going to be, but maybe this book can.”

Maybe they think, “Oh, something for the mom!”

Maybe they think “She’ll like something to read while she’s stuck in the house.”

This is what I find fascinating–that my intended audience won’t reach out publicly to get this book. Maybe it’s easier for a new mother to receive this book as a gift from someone else, rather than as a purchase for herself. When it’s a gift, she doesn’t lose any face in admitting that–once again–this whole process of becoming a mother gives birth to so many unanswerable questions. Maybe the best way to get this book into the hands of new mothers is to do it indirectly–by having someone else give it to them.

Lesson # 2: Know your buyers. They are not always the same as your audience.

***

My last realization concerns packaging.

Yes, packaging.

While I was standing next to my table, waiting for people to approach, my mother (who was keeping me company at this event) flipped through the book and said, “You know, if you put a nice ribbon around this, maybe with a gift tag, I bet more people would buy it.”

I laughed, but she looked serious.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah. People eat that stuff up.”

I immediately thought of a friend who said that I should package the book as a ready-to-give gift.

“Maybe drop a bag of tea in there. Some chocolate. Put it all in clear gift bag, tie it with a ribbon. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Just something that makes people think about giving it away.”

Oh my God, they’re right. I need to play the pretty package game.

This is my blind side.

You know how a lot of people assume that women know how to decorate and wrap gifts and create gift baskets? I am not one of those women. At all. If I could wrap everything in aluminum foil without appearing trashy, I would. (No scissors or tape needed!) In this regard, I am totally masculine. My husband wraps the Christmas gifts. He also hangs the pictures on the walls, picks out paint colors, and chooses furniture and fixtures. He insists that I am involved in the process, but I inevitably shrug every time and say, “Looks good to me.”

So maybe you can understand why I didn’t even consider the packaging. Wasn’t this book cover enough to catch their attention?

Book-Cover-Becoming-Mother-Kindle

For my primary audience, this cover might be enough. But my readers aren’t always my buyers.

And my buyers need to see this as a gift.

I brainstormed some ideas with some friends about what types of little add-ons would pair nicely with this book. So far, we’ve decided on a bag of tea, a piece of chocolate, a pouch of ready-to-mix cocoa, and a bag of microwaveable popcorn–all things that you need to “curl up with a good book.”

Lesson # 3: Package the book to appeal to the buyer.

So will this work?

My next event is the National Holiday Gift Show at Hara Arena on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Over a three-day period, do you know how many people went to this event last year?

13,000.

So, I guess we’ll find out.

Why I don’t want to be great: An artist’s reflection

Author_profile_closeup_2

I’ve never thought that “greatness” was wealth.

I’ve always thought that “greatness” meant that you were one of the go-to people for a particular niche. That your name would be indelibly associated with a subject or concept or theory or whatever. And for some innate reason, I’ve always pictured that I would achieve that greatness through writing.

So for years and years, I wrote with the purpose of achieving my own personal greatness.

What amazing idea could I write about that could make me great?

Maybe that. Or that.

Yeah! What a great idea. No one else is doing that, so I could become great by doing that.

At this stage, a lot of my writing could be called the dreaded forced and one-dimensional. It was missing a certain je ne sais quoi. Only, I do know what to call it.

Voice.

It was missing voice.

My voice.

And although my goal had been to become a great writer, nothing that I had written had been that great.

And then came the concept of this book.

Suddenly, my reason for writing changed drastically.

I was no longer seeking out “greatness” or fame. I was writing it because I had to. There was such a drive in me to get this book out of my head and into the hands of someone else that I didn’t care anymore about how people were going to see me. God, if I cared about how people were going to see me, I would have picked another topic that wouldn’t have required me to write about my torn vagina or defective boobs.

If I didn’t have this need to write this book, it would have never gotten done.

Let’s put this into context.

Writing a book.

From concept to publication.

Independently.

In two years.

With a baby.

While working full-time 11 months of the year.

That’s drive.

In his new book, How Did I Get Here?: Making Peace with the Road not Taken, Jesse Browner writes about this same drive that artistic minds experience when engaging in the creative process:

“You do it because you need to do it, because you are commanded to do it, and you can only hope and pray that in return it will give you what you need, even if you have no idea what that might be, other than some nebulous principle of fulfillment.”

It could very well be that my book sells fewer than 500 copies and never quite breaks through. But that doesn’t bother me anymore. Because this book has already given back to me what I needed it to give me. It has given me feedback and reviews like this:

“… I’m confident that this book will really help other mothers and mothers-to-be to feel not so alone.”

“No one else I know has (or could?) put into words this crazy, life-altering process… She writes with a deep honesty and humility. It is at turns humorous and deeply emotional, and I found it hard to put down.”

“I laughed, I cried, I related, and I looked forward to each new step of this journey knowing that someone else could relate and had the eloquence to put such profound experiences into words. “

“Becoming Mother is a TRUE account of how many women feel once becoming mothers, but many are unwilling, or afraid, to share with the world.”

What I love most about these reviews are that they reveal that I have been relatable to my readers—and that gives me back all that I need from this creative process.

Being relatable keeps me among the masses, and in my heart, that’s where I’m most comfortable. I don’t want people to envy my life or what I have. It makes me feel spoiled to the point that I want to give away everything that I own.

I don’t want to be a hero. It makes me want to point out to everyone else why they are just as heroic as me. And I only really want to be a role model to my children. (Okay, and maybe my students.)

Maybe I don’t want to be “great” because I fear that it will create a large divide between me and my readers.

Maybe I don’t ever want to think of myself as someone who has completely “arrived” in life. I fear that it might numb me to all the possibilities that still await me.

Although pushing into new territory has never, ever been something that I look forward to, I know that stretching myself beyond my previous capabilities has always, always rewarded me with confidence in my own capability and resilience.

I always want to acknowledge that I have further to go.

I always want to believe that I am a better person when I acknowledge that I am, and always will be, incomplete.

I will always yearn for something more. Something else. Something just far enough out of view that I can’t see it yet.

It feels good to understand at this point in my life that this is not a reflection of how much I love my family or how satisfied I am with my life. This is just the drive of the artist. The drive that I can’t wish away.

For me, writing is my ministry to others. Because this is where I find the most fulfillment. The greatest satisfaction.

And so I must dare to believe that in exchange for giving parts of myself away, new and unexpected things come my way.

Author_profile_closeup_3

%d bloggers like this: